Book Sneak-a-Peak: Small Congregation Worship Matters.

Excerpt from The Small Church Advantage: Seven Powerful Worship Practices that Work Best in Small Settings (chapter 1).

. . . . Small congregations also matter to the future of the whole Church—in all places.


Yes. Small congregations are crucial local laboratories. They are places of indigenous experimentation. Small congregations are diagnostic centers tasked with figuring out what the good news sounds like and looks like in each community. To help grow the kingdom in the years ahead.

The late Phyllis Tickle helps explain. She reminds us that there are predictable, roughly 500-year cycles in our faith tradition. Within each 500-year cycle, new experiments emerge at the margins and edges alongside older, established practices at the center.

Around the end of each 500-year cycle, there’s a major transition. We collectively—and irritably—sort out what to keep (because it’s working and faithful) and what to get rid of (because it’s not). This sorting results in a kind of chaotic Church “rummage sale” of structures and practices. And, not surprisingly, it’s marked by immense change and heightened anxiety.

Sound familiar?

But the results of this irritable sorting process are also reassuring, according to Tickle. Because somehow, after each transition, the Church doesn’t collapse, shrink, and die. Somehow ministries expand. New things are unleashed. Outrageously, some of the small, unexpected, unlikely experiments work. And from these experiments, we end up with more local models. More indigenous innovations. For more people. In more places. And with a greater diversity of forms and practices.

God shows up.

But there may be a new wrinkle in the ancient pattern that Tickle describes. Currently, we are abundantly confident in the successes of our large congregations. And our confidence may be changing the rules of this rummage sale. Especially in the United States. We may be preserving and replicating general worship models that work in well-resourced, large settings. And overlooking everything else—like the messy, unpredictable particulars of small settings.

We are not exploring how large and small congregations might work differently, then teaching the strengths of each. Instead, we are looking for successful, one-size-fits-most answers with a troubling result: we are gathering all the kingdom’s eggs into one big basket. And missing the margins and edges where local ministries might be incubating unnoticed.”

(See Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Ada, MI: Baker Books, 2008), based on the idea and metaphor of Ralph Adams Cram in The Great Thousand Years, 1910.)

Book available now at Market Square Books, Cokesbury, and Amazon.